On the heels of the opening day of fishing season in late April, came the opening day of boating season and the start of the swimming season in May. With all of these water activities under way, it’s important that families understand how to keep their children safe.

In honor of National Water Safety Month, On The Pulse is shining the spotlight on water safety because every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of those that pass away, about two are children. In Washington state, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children and teens age 1 to 17.

“Staying safe while in, on or around the water requires using layers of protection,” said Dr. Linda Quan, an emergency physician and drowning expert at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “It’s not enough to have your child take a series or two of swim lessons when they’re in preschool. More skills and more attention are needed to help make your family’s time around the water safe and fun.”

Learn to swim

Swim lessons provide a good base layer of protection from drowning. Taking part in formal swim lessons has been shown to reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning death. Check about lessons at your local pool or life-guarded beach. Upgrade your child’s swimming skills each year, making sure they can eventually float and tread water for at least one minute.

It’s never too late to learn how to swim or to improve your skills. Some organizations, like Seattle Parks and Recreation, offer lessons just for older teens and adults or just for women, and some also offer scholarships to make swim lessons more accessible for all.

Supervise fun in and around water

Adult supervision is a layer of protection that is a serious job said Quan. When you can, swim only in areas where there are lifeguards. Actively watch your child when they are in or near water – this means being within touching distance of young children at all times.

Since most drownings occur quickly and quietly, focused supervision is needed for older kids, too, so save the magazine or book for when the kids are taking a break from the water. Quan recommends assigning an adult “water watcher” to prevent drownings at group events near the water, such as family reunions or lakeside picnics. The water watcher should remain alcohol-free and actively watch the children in or near the water.

Wear life jackets

Life jackets offer another layer of protection. Children, teens and adults should always wear life jackets when on a boat, raft or inner tube, and when swimming in natural bodies of water, like lakes, rivers and the ocean. Young children should also wear them when playing in or near the water and when on docks. Check for proper fit and make sure they are U.S. Coat Guard-approved.

“Follow these recommendations for when to wear a life jacket even if you or your child knows how to swim,” said Quan. “If you fall out of a boat or misjudge your ability while swimming, there’s no time to put on a life jacket. Cold water and currents can overpower the skills of even a good swimmer. The extra safety and warmth of a life jacket can be the difference between a safe rescue and a deadly outing.”

More layers of protection to keep your family safe

Water Safety USA was recently established by a group of national organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental, to share aligned messaging about water safety and drowning prevention. Water Safety USA provides these additional tips for how to stay safe at pools and waterparks, in natural bodies of water, and at home:

  • Swim with someone else
  • Avoid underwater breath-holding activities and games
  • Be aware of hazards in the water
  • Enter natural bodies of water feet first
  • Obey posted signs and flags
  • Learn rip current safety
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs
  • Empty all tubs, buckets, containers and wading pools immediately after use
  • Keep toilet lids closed and use toilet seat locks
  • Remove toys from around the pool after use and cover hot tubs
  • Install four-sided, four-foot fencing around pools and spas, and use self-closing, self-latching gates

Know what to do in an emergency

While it’s critical to take the appropriate steps to keep kids safe, it’s also important to know what to do if an emergency does occur.

“Most drownings can be prevented, but in case of an emergency, be as prepared as possible,” said Quan. “Learn child and adult CPR, have quick access to a phone to call 911 while near water, and learn safe ways to rescue others without putting yourself in danger.”

Use extra caution as temperatures rise

Warmer weather causes mountain snowpack to start melting this time of year, sending cold, swift water down the rivers, while lakes and the Puget Sound also remain cold. Even though temperatures may be spiking, it’s important to think twice before jumping in a body of water as swimmers can suffer from cold-water shock in these conditions.

“Remember to have respect for the water and put the layers of protection in place to keep you and your loved ones safe when you’re in or near water,” urged Quan.

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